If you’re going to be the best, you have to be mentally tougher than your opponent.
“Elite athletes do mental training, overcome obstacles, learn lessons and align themselves with resources that are beneficial to their long-term goals and their emotional well-being,” says Dr. Dan Vitchoff, a mental training and performance coach and president of the Pennsylvania Hypnosis Center. “If you’re not doing mental training and not doing it deliberately and properly, then you’re being mentally trained and programmed by whatever is going on around you."
Vitchoff recommends getting a jumpstart on mental training prior to a competition so that you’re prepared.
“You don’t go into an event expecting to get second, or third or fourth,” says Vincent Hancock, a 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist for the U.S. Shooting Team. “If you’re confident and you’re thinking positive, then you can expect to win every time. You can’t expect anything less.”
Vitchoff worked with Hancock and fellow Olympian Glenn Eller in preparation for the 2008 Games. He also served as the team’s mental training coach in Beijing. Both U.S. Army Marksmen used Vitchoff’s 33 Method—a complex form of mental training designed to help athletes prepare for competition.
Hancock won the Gold Medal in the Men’s Skeet event in a sudden-death shootout, while Eller fired his way to gold in the Men’s Double Trap event.
“I know when I’m shooting, everything that I need is already perfect,” Hancock says. “There’s no need to think about anything else other than the task at hand.”
Another tool, according to Vitchoff, is to emulate successful people.
“When you watch athletes over and over and emulate them, you’re unconsciously learning what their habits and mannerisms are,” Vitchoff says. “That’s a great way to learn, by watching people that have great technique and are consistent, because you automatically will pick up on their style.”
That’s how Hancock approached his shot at gold.
“I try to go to every event with the mental being of ‘I’m going to win.’ I expect to win every time,” Hancock says. “I got that saying from Tiger Woods. Every time he sets foot on the golf course, he expects to win. And he’s done a pretty good job of it. If he’s the best in his sport and has that mentality, then I can try to be the best in my sport and have that same mentality.”